Chen Guangcheng, the blind human rights activist who made a daring escape from house arrest and was widely believed to be under the protection of the U.S. embassy in Beijing, said the U.S. has let him down and does not know what he will do after he leaves a hospital.
Chen sought medical treatment at Chaoyang Hospital after being told that Chinese officials would have killed his wife had he remained at the embassy, according to the Associated Press.
Chen told the AP by telephone Wednesday from his hospital room in Beijing that U.S. officials delivered the threat from the Chinese side.
A U.S. official denied knowledge of a threat to beat Chen's wife to death, but said a shaken Chen was told his family would be sent back home if he stayed in the embassy, according to the AP.
"At no time did any U.S. official speak to Chen about physical or legal threats to his wife and children," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. "Nor did Chinese officials make any such threats to us. U.S. interlocutors did make clear that if Chen elected to stay in the embassy, Chinese officials had indicated to us that his family would be returned to Shandong, and they would lose their opportunity to negotiate for reunification."
"If I can get out of China I will," Chen told ABC News.
Chen said U.S. officials who are trying to visit him are being blocked by "the Chinese side" outside the hospital.
Earlier, U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, Harold Koh, legal adviser to the Department of State, and Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific Asian Affairs, had escorted Chen to the hospital.
Chen's first phone call upon leaving the embassy was to Clinton, who had arrived in Beijing hours earlier to attend an annual meeting on strategic and economic affairs, according to State Department officials. "I want to kiss you," he told her in broken English.
Clinton said in a statement, "I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng's stay and departure from the U.S. Embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values. I was glad to have the chance to speak with him today and to congratulate him on being reunited with his wife and children."
Outside Chaoyang hospital, Jian Tianyong, a human rights lawyer and friend of Chen, said he received a phone call from Chen, 40, once he had arrived at the hospital. Jian said Chen is still in bad health and has been in need of medical attention for several years. U.S. officials confirmed he received preliminary treatment at the embassy that would continue at the hospital.
News of his whereabouts caps off days of intense speculation and a game of diplomatic cat and mouse; neither the United States nor China would comment on his location or acknowledge his escape.
The unexpected diplomatic crisis came at a sensitive time. The United States is seeking wider Chinese support on issues expected to be raised at this week's meetings in Beijing, such as nuclear non-proliferation in North Korea and Iran. The White House is also defending accusations by Republicans that President Obama's foreign policy is "soft" on China.
At the same time, the United States has long called for human rights reform in China. As recently as November, Clinton specifically called for Chen's freedom while criticizing China's treatment of political activists.
Top level officials on both sides were locked in intense debate over Chen's future for days, spending sleepless nights debating possible outcomes. What has emerged is the story of a dramatic escape and an unprecedented outcome for a case of this kind in China.
From the beginning, Chen has remained focused on staying in China. There had been widespread speculation that Chen went to the U.S. Embassy to seek asylum. But dissident sources, including friend and fellow activist Hu Jia, refuted that, insisting the Chen knew if he left China his ability to continue his work against corruption would be diminished. U.S. officials affirmed that today by saying that Chen expressed determination and hope to stay in China and he never varied from it.
That presented a difficult challenge for both sides. How could the United States release Chen into China's custody while honoring its call for human rights reform (and not appear "soft") and also secure a guarantee of Chen's safety that would not rankle the leadership, thereby compromising negotiations? There is no precedent for such a case between the two countries, which is what makes the outcome announced today so unique.